Roberts is Red Hot
By Greg Salvatore
If you think you’ve never seen Ryan Roberts play quite this well before, you’re right.
In his first at bat in the top of the first inning of Tuesday’s game, Roberts took a first pitch ball, a knee-high 91-MPH fastball just outside. He took the next pitch for a ball, too, a thigh-high 91-MPH fastball.
Now in a nice hitter’s count, with a high likelihood of seeing another fastball, Roberts was able to gear up to drive one. He got a great pitch to hit, a knee-high fastball on the outer third of the plate that was travelling, you guessed it, 91 MPH.
Roberts deposited that fastball into the right-field stand at Great American Ballpark to give the D-backs an early lead, and extend his hit streak to six games. This stretch is tied for the longest in his career, matching a six gamer he had for the D-backs back in May of 2009.
In the fifth inning, he came to the plate with Kelly Johnson on second base and two outs, with the D-backs trailing by a run. It was an important RBI opportunity for Roberts, to get the game tied up in support of Armando Galarraga. In Roberts’ second at bat, back in the third inning, Reds pitcher Sam LeCure got him to swing on a fastball that was out of the strike zone. But LeCure didn’t execute the pitch as well this time.
He came with a 90-MPH fastball on the inner third of the plate, at knee high, on the same vertical plane as the ball he hit out in the first. With it being on the inner part, Roberts pulled this one and wound up with the second multi-homer game of his career as he gave the D-backs a 4-3 lead.
This has been a pretty absurd stretch for Roberts, who won a roster spot in part because Geoff Blum required a stint on the disabled list, and in part because Roberts had a torrid Spring Training, batting .509 with 27 hits in 29 games.
When Roberts had a good year for the D-backs in 2009, he did it largely because he took advantage of extreme platoon splits, posting a .325/.406/.547 slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) against left-handed pitching, greatly outshining his .250/.343/.335 line against righties. His career splits aren’t as extreme, mostly because he struggled against left-handed pitching in 2010.
It’s worth noting then, while acknowledging that we’re dealing with extremely small sample sizes here, that Roberts’ early success in 2011 has been because he’s crushed right-handers to the tune of a .409/.480/.1.000 line. To succeed as this season goes on, Roberts is going to need to do some damage on good breaking balls, or at least be able to continue to work his way into good fastball counts. Also, in the early going, he’s making contact on balls out of the strike zone (76.5%) at a much higher rate than his career percentage (61.3%), which will normalize as he has more and more at bats.
Roberts is exactly the kind of guy people root for, because he plays hard and really treats the fans well. He certainly isn’t going to maintain this .382 average, few people besides Tony Gwynn can. But a successful season for Roberts isn’t winning a batting title, its continuing to take advantage of good hitting counts to make himself a valuable utility guy.
Here’s hoping that happens.